COVID-19: Don't eat, drink ‘excessively’ in cinemas to minimise virus spread – MOH official

Wong Casandra
·Senior Reporter
·5-min read

SINGAPORE — Cinema-goers should avoid eating and drinking “excessively” in cinemas and they should otherwise wear masks while watching movies, a senior Ministry of Health (MOH) official advised on Friday (24 July).

The ministry’s director of medical services Kenneth Mak, who was speaking at an online conference by the COVID-19 multi-ministry taskforce, was responding to a media query on whether additional measures would be introduced by authorities after two cinemas were recently listed as public venues visited by community COVID-19 cases while infectious.

They are FilmGarde cinema’s Hall 6 in Bugis+, visited on 17 July from 9.40pm to 12am, and a Golden Village cinema in VivoCity, which was visited along with the Soup Restaurant on 15 July from 4.10pm to 6.50pm.

Cinemas had been closed from late March and were allowed to reopen from 13 July with strict safe management measures in place, including a cap of 50 patrons per cinema hall and allowing only a maximum of five people to sit together.

Associate Professor Mak confirmed that based on tracing efforts, two COVID-19 cases had visited these cinemas on two separate occasions to watch movies.

“As a result of (them) going to these places, we've had to also do contact tracing within the cinemas, and identify those who were seated in proximity to these particular individuals and put them on quarantine as well. We continue to monitor them,” he added.

At this stage, the authorities do not have any information to suggest that the two individuals were infected in the cinemas, nor the evidence to suggest that those who were in close proximity to the cases will get infected, said Assoc Prof Mak.

Nevertheless, authorities will “keep a very close eye on the situation” if they find evidence suggesting a spread occurring within the cinemas, he added.

“We will be prepared to take further action to safeguard that risk of spread occurring within the cinema setting, but we don't have any information at this point in time that this is actually occurring in Singapore,” said Assoc Prof Mak. He was responding to a question about the emergence of COVID-19 clusters overseas within a cinema setting such as in Japan.

In mid-July, Tokyo health officials appealed for more than 800 theatre-goers to get tested for the coronavirus after a production starring Japanese boyband members was found to be the source of at least 20 cases.

Assoc Prof Mak called for cinema-goers to take extra precautions to reduce the risk of spreading the virus, as they may have no symptoms but are infectious.

These include refraining from taking off their masks throughout an entire movie screening.

“We know that it's very tempting to buy a drink, get some popcorn. We haven't stopped you from doing that,” said Assoc Prof Mak.

“But please don't eat and drink excessively throughout the entire show, please put on that mask again after you've taken your sip or taken a bite.”

He advised, “Keep the mask on as long as possible during the show itself and that will certainly help to reduce the risk of any theoretical spread occurring within the cinema setting.”

Authorities closely monitoring high-risk venues, stepping up surveillance

National Development Minister and taskforce co-chair Lawrence Wong reiterated that authorities will “cast a wide net” of active swabbing operations to test employees at a public venue if there are suspected or confirmed cases.

Wong referred to the monitoring of public venues, especially those “inherently of higher risk”. If safe distancing measures are found to be insufficient at these places, signalling a need for tougher enforcement or restrictions, authorities may decide to close them, he added.

“That's the basis in which we will operate and we continue to watch all of these places – whether it's a cinema, F&B establishments, or shopping malls,” Wong said.

On Friday, Wong announced that authorities will “proactively” close off access to public spaces such as parks and beaches when they approach capacity limits. Carparks serving these popular hotspots may also be selectively closed.

He also said that suspension notices and fines were issued against two F&B establishments along Circular Road – Try Again and Los Amigos – last week.

Health Minister and taskforce co-chair Gan Kim Yong said that over the past months, authorities have conducted swab operations arising from new emerging workplace clusters and retail businesses frequented by multiple positive cases.

For instance, close to 60 staff of Sheng Siong supermarket at New World Centre and over 40 staff at Haniffa supermarket at Dunlop Street were recently tested for the virus. None have tested positive.

Gan also noted that the National Environment Agency is planning to progressively expand waste-water monitoring for potential COVID-19 clusters to include not just more foreign workers’ dormitories, but other populous living quarters such as nursing homes and hostels.

The surveillance is currently implemented at 34 such dorms. Separately, all dorms in Singapore and workers living there are expected to be cleared of the virus by 7 August, with the exception of 17 standalone blocks in eight purpose-built dorms which serve as quarantine facilities as well as 28,000 workers still serving out their isolation period.

Following that, the workers will continue to be regularly and routinely tested as they go back to work.

To date, Singapore has 49,375 COVID-19 cases, of which some 94 cent are foreign workers living in dorms.

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